While a lot of us are hunkered down, practicing social distancing, and riding out the pandemic, farmers and ranchers are doing what they normally do in the spring, harrowing pastures, working ground, calving cattle and lambing ewes, planting crops, and getting ready start irrigation. Social distancing is normal for these folks, because they’re to busy chasing daylight getting ready for the eminent growing and grazing season to socialize very much.
For the past month, cash prices for oil seeds, grain, livestock and dairy have looked pretty grim. Soybean prices have been moving sideways since the first of the year and are just barley profitable. Corn prices are at or below $3 a bushel, which is about 60 cents below the projected cost of production, and is a price last seen 15 years ago, just before the Renewable Fuels Standard were mandated by Congress in 2005. Ag economists pin the current low prices on increased competition around the world, trade disputes with countries that had previously bought corn from the U.S. , and lower demand for ethanol production. Since 2005, about 40% of corn production was used to produce ethanol, but over the past couple of years, EPA has provided waivers for many refineries that allowed them to reduced the amount of ethanol blended in motor fuels, which in turn, left a surplus of ethanol without a market. The final straw in this saga has been the shuttering of businesses and stay at home orders that has kept many cars and trucks off of the roads resulting in much lower demand for both gasoline and ethanol, and lower demand for corn. The outlook for improved corn prices this Fall looks dim too, because a March 31st USDA Prospective Plantings report indicated that farmers intend to plant 97 million acres of corn this spring, 8% more than a year ago.
Wheat prices gained some ground during the first half of April based on consumer demand for flour, but it lost most of that during last week’s trading, with wheat closed at about $4.50 a bushel. 75% of the Colorado winter wheat crop was rated from fair to excellent condition according to the April 6th USDA Crop Progress Report.
Livestock dairy prices are also facing headwinds. Last week, fed cattle prices were$105 per hundred weight, over $20 less than a year ago. Slaughter hogs closed at $45 per hundred weight in many areas of the country last week, with both cattle and hogs affected by slaughter plant shutting down because of coronavirus outbreaks at some plants. Although several slaughter plants are closed until worker protection initiatives can be implemented, experts assure consumers that they don’t need to be concerned about the supply of meat in the near term, because there’s a lot of pork, chicken, and beef in cold storage that can be accessed if shortages occur.
In a recent article in the High Plains Journal, Susan Harris, Nebraska Extension Educator gave participants who attended an Extension Service webinar advice about how to deal with stress related to the pandemic currently affecting so many people in the U.S. She pointed out that some of the keys to reducing stress are taking care of ourselves by getting enough sleep, staying active, eating healthy food having positive conversations with others, and shifting from worrying to problem solving.